London Assembly censures Livingstone over Nazi jibe

LONDON mayor Ken Livingstone was censured by the London Assembly yesterday for comparing a Jewish reporter to a Nazi concentration camp guard.

The assembly unanimously voted for Mr Livingstone to withdraw immediately his remarks to Evening Standard reporter Oliver Finegold.

But Mr Livingstone still refused to apologise, even as the Board of Deputies of British Jews called on the Standards Board of England to investigate him. As Holocaust survivors watched him at City Hall, Mr Livingstone said: "I cannot say to you words I do not believe in my heart."

His refusal to say sorry defies calls from Holocaust survivors and all five parties of the London Assembly.

In a highly charged session yesterday, Holocaust survivors and politicians, many of them Jewish and including his own Labour group, pleaded with Mr Livingstone to say sorry.

Labour’s deputy London mayor, Nicky Gavron, herself the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, said: "These were inappropriate words and very offensive, both to the individual and to Jews in London.

"I know that the mayor uses Hitler, the war and the Holocaust as a moral reference point for history. I do not think in my view there are any circumstances which justify inappropriate reference to the Holocaust."

Brian Coleman, Tory chairman of the assembly, said: "We would suggest he deserves an apology, the Jewish community deserves an apology, but most of all Londoners deserve an apology."

Mr Livingstone made his comments to Mr Finegold after a party last week marking the 20th anniversary of former culture secretary Chris Smith coming out as Britain’s first openly homosexual MP.

The embarrassing row comes as the government, which allowed Mr Livingstone back into the Labour party last year, hoped he would act as a cheerleader for London’s Olympic bid during this week’s vital inspection by the International Olympic Committee.

In defending his actions, Mr Livingstone claimed he had been the victim of a 24-year hate campaign by newspapers, particularly Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Evening Standard and the Daily Mail.

In a shaking voice, he said: "If I could, in anything I say, relieve any pain anyone feels I would not hesitate to do it, but it would require me to be a liar.

"I could apologise, but why should I say words I do not believe in my heart ? Therefore I cannot. If that is something people find they cannot accept, I am sorry, but this is how I feel after nearly a quarter of a century of their behaviour and tactics. I cannot say to you words I do not believe in my heart.

"In the comments I made it simply indicated the level of loathing and disgust for the racism they have perpetuated and the bigotry they have encouraged for over 100 years."

Conservative assembly member Angie Bray pointed out that Mr Livingstone had "done extremely well" out of Associated Newspapers. He was previously restaurant critic at the Evening Standard and his partner Emma Beal used to work there.

He got no sympathy from Holocaust survivors, who delivered a petition accusing him of having "belittled" the Holocaust, making light of their suffering and abusing those who perished.

Gena Turgel, 82, who was chosen to lead the Queen to her seat in Westminster Hall at the Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony at the end of January, said: "I am shocked. There is no comparison between what Mr Livingstone’s family have gone through and what ours suffered."

Josef Perl, 74, who survived eight concentration camps, said: "The mayor is a bigoted person. He made no attempt to meet us and does not deserve the position he holds."

Mr Livingstone later said he would be prepared to meet them.

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